1862: Unidentified “Thomas” to Friend

This letter was written by a soldier named “Thomas”—otherwise unidentified. I have concluded that he served in the 23rd Massachusetts, most likely in either Co. A, E, or K. In the letter he wrote to a “friend,” Thomas described the Battle of New Bern which occurred on 14 March 1862. In that engagement, the regiment served under Brig. General John G. Foster.

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The Battle of Newbern, 14 March 1862


Newbern, North Carolina
March 30, 1862

Dear Friend,

Received yours and was very glad to hear from you. I have just got in from church from the City of Newbern, North Carolina. Well, we have got on the land once more and we have got into a good place but we had to fight for it. I tell you we had a tough time of it. What would you think of marching all day in a hard rain in mud up to your knees and then have to lay on the ground all night without any shelter in a pouring rain. It is tough, I tell you. The next morning at daylight we were off again before we were shot into by the rebels. It was a tough battle, I tell you. It was hard telling how it was a going to turn for awhile. They fought smart, I tell you. General Burnside said it was the smartest fight that ever he saw. It lasted about three hours but it was one continual roar all the time.

I have heard Old Gaius tell of being where the bullets flew as thick as hailstones but I never thought of being where they flew so thick before but I believe they did for awhile. But thank God I have lived through it and am good for another one although I should not cry if I did not see another one for there is not much pleasure in it, I can tell you.

After all we lost one out of our company—a good fellow too—the best one in the company. But he never knew [what] ailed him. We lost our Lieutenant-Colonel [Henry Merritt] too. ¹ He was a good officer and a good man too. [He] was killed by the very first volley that was fired at us. It was an awful light to look upon after the battle was over—to see the dead and wounded scattered all the field and a plenty of dead horses. Some think the rebels will be back and attack us again but I think it rather doubtful. They say that we are to stay here three months before we go any further. Some of the officers are coming on to recruit for this regiment. If you want to enlist, this will be a good chance for you and come into our company. I think if we stay here three months, our next move will be to Massachusetts.

It is a very pretty place out here, I tell you. My paper is getting small so I must close. From your friend, — Thomas


¹ The regimental history states that a shell exploded in the ranks just as the line was being formed that “hit Lt. Col. Merritt and, horribly lacerating the interior walls of his abdomen, killed him.”

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